Monday, December 30, 2013

The End of the Year.

We are on the cusp of a new beginning and as I reflect back upon this past year my first thought is “Where did all that time go?” To me it seems as if the days, weeks and months have passed by faster than the Millennium Falcon smuggling spice off of the planet Kessel. It’s strange, to me that is, I have fond memories of the events and occurrences I've lived through and yet they all seem so fleeting.
            Hold on a second, I need to load up some Miles Davis for this blog. I like Miles for a lot of reasons but one of the main reasons is that no matter what sort of mood I’m in, he has endless hours of music to go with any emotion I may be experiencing. So, in case you’re wondering, I've got Miles and Quincy live at Montreux filling my mind with amazing tones, harmonies, rhythms and beats. It’s a good place to be, my porch, a decent cigar, cool breeze and tepid temperatures. You should join me.
            Over the past year, I've managed to grow closer to some people, farther away from others, meet new people, alienate them or in some cases, draw them closer to me. I've laughed and I've cried. I've spanned the emotional spectrum of sheer, boundless joy and happiness all the way down to the desolate loneliness that comes with depression. My anger almost got the best of me a few times, but I managed to hold it in check and I can’t tell you how many verbal rants I spouted in an attempt to alleviate the anger I felt. My rants actually work like a pressure release valve on a boiler that is getting ready to explode and kill or maim the innocent and guilty alike. So I’m glad I have people in my life that allow me to blow off my proverbial steam every now and again.
            I did manage to keep a few of my new year’s resolutions and if you’ll permit me, I’d like to share what exactly I resolved to do over the course of the last 365 days.
1.      My main goal this year was to write at least one blog a week. I succeeded in that aspect as most of you, my dear readers, can attest to. It has not always been easy nor has it always been fun. Sometimes the thoughts in my head seem to fight with each other like a family with six kids. Where each kid believes that what they want to say is more important than the others. But, in the end, I managed to sort out my thoughts and hopefully get them written down in a sensible manner and have them conveyed to you.
2.      Step out of my box. I believe I succeeded in this resolution as well. After all, I acted in two separate plays and if I believe what I’m told, I have a small talent for doing that sort of thing.
3.      Get published again. I failed at this one again, but I have more than a half a dozen rejection letters proving I at least tried. I know my fiction writing is not great and I need to spend more time working on it so I don’t blame anyone else but myself for that. Also, truth be told, I’m at a bit of a loss as to where to submit stories to. I do the google search and scour various forums but I usually end up with stories that don’t fit into any one particular genre.  So, I suppose what I need to do is focus more on what genre I want to be published in and then format the stories to fit. Although, truth be told, when I do write fiction, the stories themselves, as well as the characters seem to take on a life of their own and then they absolutely refuse to listen to what I want them to do. It’s a bit nutty to tell you the truth.
4.      Be more pleasant. This one I can’t say whether I succeeded or failed at so I am going to say that it was a push. There were times when I was gruff and callous and then there were times where I was concerned and caring. So no real change there.
In the end, I think I've had an okay year. Yes there are still things I need to work on but isn’t that what we are all supposed to do in life? Work at being better people than what we perceive ourselves to be?
            Now, I’d like to spend some time thanking a few people personally for making my days and nights pass so quickly. First off, I’d like to thank you my dear readers, you have taken countless hours and shared the comings and goings of my life on a weekly basis and I truly appreciate that. Second, my family for allowing me my porch time and encouraging my habit of trying to formulate and decipher what is going on in my life. Third, to Craig and the Garage Crew, for giving me a cool place in the summer to smoke my cigars and a warm place in the winter to fill the air with my acrid exhalations. Fourth, to my team of Techs at work who put up with my shenanigans and always seem relatively happy to see me on a daily basis. Fifth, to the kind yet obstinate people of Pinecrest Babtist for forcing me out of my box and into a several month long quest of internal understanding, I don’t think I've been challenged like that for a long time. And lastly, my buddy Barry, even though he doesn't read this and we don’t get to hang out much, he has always been there when I need someone to rant to or even just watch a mindless movie with.
            That’s about it folks. You have all been wonderful this year and the few of you that have left comments, whether on the blog page or on my facebook page have really inspired me to continue down this path of my life.
            One last little postscript, last week I mentioned a number I was trying to achieve, and this does fall under the resolution category. At the beginning of the year I had almost fourteen thousand views on my little blog. I challenged myself to get that number up to twenty thousand, I succeeded. As of this writing I have had over 20,100 views. Now, whether that means people actually read my musings or they were just surfing through I don’t know but to me, I feel my blog has been a success. I couldn't have done that without all of your help.
            Have a great week and a very Happy New Year.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Strange Kind of Magic

           The presents are unwrapped and being played with and the forgotten scraps of foil and paper that once encased them are now crumbled into a kaleidoscope of color sitting inside a trash bag at the curb. Meats, sweets and breads have been consumed and put away in plastic containers and stowed inside the refrigerator. All the dishes have been done and are slowly drying in a warm kitchen where the heat does not come from the heaters but from the love and caring that fills the house.
            On the television an overabundance of seasonal feel good movies has everyone laughing, crying, cheering or sitting, starting at the flickering pictures in a food induced coma. Small talk is made but the conversations are short for it is late and while everyone feels a sense of emotional fulfillment, they are tired. Too tired in fact to maintain a lengthy conversation about anything other than how full they feel. Yes, overindulgence in food, family, friends and loved ones has put us all in a state of rare bliss. It seems all of our needs have been sated, for now at least.
            To my untrained eye it appears as if everyone I know has overdosed on good tidings, good will and peace that seem to be in abundance this time of year. We all know why there is an overabundance of these feelings during this month and it is no secret that some people, including your truly, have had an issue with finding the peace and harmony so many others seem to slip into easily like an old comfortable sweater. But this year, I made a vow to try and find and keep what has eluded me so often in the past. I think I found it and I believe I was and still am, hanging on to it.
            For you see, not only is this the time of year where we celebrate our individual beliefs but it is also a time for giving and sharing with family, friends and strangers. I tried to do this in my own way. I tried to keep each day precious and not stress too much about the everyday normal mundane tasks we all face. And, while it is true I was under pressure and I did get a bit… surly, I did manage to make the most of my situation. At least to my satisfaction. When I started to get stressed, and about to go on one of my “famous” verbal rants, all I did was make jokes. Jokes that were and still are, witty and dripping with sarcasm but also alleviate unwanted tension inside of me and, oddly enough, to the laughter of those around me.
            Soon though, the twinkle lights will be put away, as will the ornaments, trees, candles and various other decorative bric-a-brac that adorn the rooms and hallways of our lives. Soon, we will all have to get used to the stark corners, walls and porches in our life. As the decorations get stowed for another year I know so will the good feelings that come with them. It is an odd correlation to me. You see, this year, the day after Thanksgiving, when we decorated our home, I could feel the warmth that they bring with them. Warmth that no cold seems to be able to get rid of. Ornaments, handmade with love and kindness when pulled out of a chilly box that has been resting in an attic whose temperature is the same as the frigid wind outside seems impossible. But, yet in my hand, as I slowly pulled the ceramic craft from its carefully wrapped and yellowed newspaper, there was still an unexplainable warmth to it. Almost as if the person who made it put a little bit of their own self into the fabrication of the piece.
            I know next year, when I drag the boxes down from the attic the ornaments, whether they are made of plastic, metal or ceramic will still have that odd feel to them. This anomaly is a bit foreign to me yet comforting all the same. I question myself, “Does the warmth come from the memories of each piece? Is the wrapping of them staving off the chill of autumn? Or, maybe, just maybe there is some sort of supernatural force at work here that I can not see?” To be honest, I don’t want an answer nor do I need the answer. For I know if I had the answer, it would just take away one of the mysteries in my life that bring me a small sense of joy and as an added bonus, make this particular season so special.
            I know the inevitable is coming. When good men and women will once again fall into the trappings of the rest of the year, a time without these good intentions. We will once again find ourselves being petty and vicious towards each other. After all, isn’t that what this season is all about? Trying to be better than what we have been? I know I’m guilty of actions unbecoming of a human being as I know that others are as well. Because of this knowledge, I think I know what I’m going to do to try and keep a reminder of how I’ve been affected by this past holiday season. You see, I’m going to take one ornament off of my tree and not pack it away in a dark box. I’m going to keep it as a token of what we are supposed to be all day, everyday. I may put it on my bedside or I may put it on my desk, or even in my office. All I know is that I am going to keep one of these special pieces of warmth and remembrance for myself in the hopes that it will help me remember the feelings, the warmth, the love and even the miracles of what has occurred in our benefit over the millennium.

            Have a great week and remember, you can celebrate every day if you want to.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Out of the Box

           It happened again. I don’t understand how or why but it did. You see, after my last stint as an “actor” I foolishly made the comment that I actually did enjoy myself just a little bit. I suppose this meant to some people that I would be willing to do more acting in the future and truth be told, I didn’t really mind performing in front of people. So, when I got a call to fill in for a minor role in a Christmas play I was a bit conflicted with whether or not I really wanted to do it.  My initial reaction was “No.” But after some discussion with my friend who roped me into the first gig, I agreed. My thoughts were “It’s a minor roll, it won’t take up too much time and I won’t have to be in front of people for an extended period of time.”
            When I showed up for the first rehearsal I was greeted by the director and several other actors by name. I had no clue as to who these people were or even how they knew my name but I replied cordially and then was handed a three ring binder. When I sat down, I opened the binder and saw the list of characters. I quickly asked which roll I was to be playing and I was told “Nathan”. I looked down at the list of names and what I saw confused me. My roll read Nathan/Narrator. I asked the director what this meant and he informed me that my roll also included readings before and after each scene but I was only acting in one scene.
            That is when I started to flip through the play. Sure I saw my one scene with five lines. I can easily do that. But then I started to look for all the narration parts. There were at least eight of them along with one extremely long, heartfelt reading by my character about his mother dying. I wanted to leave right then and there. But I didn’t.
            When all the actors were assembled, we did a quick read through. Then I excused myself to take a few minutes and decide if this is what I really wanted to do. You see, most of my life I have strived to not be in front of people, instead I like to sit behind the scenes of any given event. Whether I’m in my office working on trains, fixing animatronic figures, operating lights, sound and cameras for my church or even at a party with friends and family, I like to try and stay inconspicuous. Yet, here I was, for the second time in a year being asked to stand in front of people and perform. I’m uncomfortable when people are watching me and I usually goof things up when I know I’m being watched.
            When I returned to the small room where we were practicing I was still unsure of whether or not I wanted to fulfill this obligation to my buddies church. That’s when we did the second reading. I decided that I would make the best of my situation and tried my best at delivering my lines with as much emotion and skill an untrained and reluctant actor could. By the time we got halfway through the reading, I found myself enjoying myself and came to the realization that it would be selfish of me to not follow through with this project.
            Over the course of the next few weeks we practiced on stage and with the choir. I didn’t know if I was doing a good job or not but I tried to give my full attention to my task at hand. On opening night, the weather was being as uncooperative as I had felt on that first night of practice. And because of the inclement conditions outside, about forty people showed up for the first performance, yet I was unfazed by this fact. Truth be told, I had no clue as to how many people were in actual attendance until after the performance. You see, I wear glasses but I don’t need them to read, and if I try to read with them on the words on the page get all blurry to me. I need my glasses to see twenty feet in front of me and farther. So, while up on stage, I take my glasses off so that I can read my narration parts and essentially blind myself from seeing if anyone is truly in the audience. (This is a blessing to me.)
            After that first show, when the choir and actors walk off the stage and we eventually make our way down to where the lingering audience is, that is when I realized how little of a turn out we had. I didn’t mind. How could I? I did my best and so did the other performers and how could I blame people for not coming out when we were having Forrest Gump type rain?
            The second and final night of the play… well, let me say there were a lot more people in attendance. The day had been chilly but not cold, the sky was pretty much cloud free and there were snacks promised to all after the show. So, yeah, in hindsight, there were quite a few more people in attendance.
            When we finished the play, the lead pastor of the church stood up, prayed and thanked us all for the hard work and effort we put into the performance and then he did something that caught me completely off guard. He called me out by name in front of everyone with the house lights up. He said complimentary things about me and people clapped. I waved back nervously and tried to hide behind my narrators stand. He then dismissed the performers to go to the reception hall so we could be greeted by the audience.
            When I got to the hall, there were a dozen tables overflowing with food, cakes, cookies and punch. I quickly drank two glasses of punch and tried to avoid eye contact with everyone. I failed. It seems people really liked what I did and they kept saying as much to me. I smiled and thanked them as politely as I could. Receiving praise for work that I do has always been a difficult thing for me and that night was no different.  
            I don’t know how long I stayed in the reception hall but I knew it wasn’t too long. I felt as if no matter where I went or what I did, people were looking at me. So I quietly excused myself and made my way to my motorcycle and went home.
            That should have been the end of this tale, but it isn’t. For you see, my dear reader, since that night I have had couple of people approach me who either went to that play or the play over Halloween and tell me what a great job I did and that they would never have guessed I could act. I’m not saying here and now that I can act, but you know, I do think I am getting the hang of people telling me I did a good job. Also, I think that stepping out of my proverbial box has helped me grow into a more well rounded individual. So for that, I have to say “Thank You” to Brent, David, Tom and Pinecrest Baptist Church for dragging me onto the stage and having me do what they felt I could do.
            On a final note, there is pretty much two weeks left to the new year. I am going to try and get two more blogs out but I’m not going to guarantee anything as of right now. But I will say that my blog site is fast approaching a quiet goal in the number of people that have visited and or read my musings. When I get to that goal, I will let you all know, but know this, when I do, I will be extremely grateful to you all for taking the time to follow me on my journey of becoming a better communicator and human being.
            Have a great week.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Freak Show.

          When I was eleven my family which consisted of my mother, three sisters and my mother’s friend and her daughter went to a carnival, I don’t believe it was my first time at a carnival but as it turned out it was my first time that I got to venture out by myself at a carnival. As my family waited in line for the carousel I ducked out of line and easily lied to them that I wanted to go to the midway and check out the games. My mother reluctantly agreed and told me to be careful and then warned me about strangers. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that with all the carnies running around “strange” was a common occurrence in our chosen family entertainment.
            When I got to the midway, I quickly walked past all the games, candy vendors, food vendors and teenage boys trying to win the hearts of their girlfriends by winning cheap stuffed toys at games that were clearly rigged to take the money of the customers and fatten the pockets of the owners. My destination was at the end of the midway, past the safety of the lighted booths and tucked away in the darkness near the tractor trailers, RV’s, and generators. As I passed the lights of the last booth the barker there yelled to me “Son, there’s nothing back that way, come on over here and try your hand at winning a stuffed bear.” I ignored him and stepped into the darkness.
            As I waited for my eyes to adjust to the dim light, I noticed the sound of the midway seemed to dim as well. It didn’t take before I made out the dim yellow lights shining on a sign that read “Freakshow!”. Standing under the sign was a large man wearing a tattered tuxedo jacket and an even more tattered top hat. In his hand he was holding a megaphone and he looked as if he had led a life on the edge of society and the wrinkles on his face showed little remorse at the things he had done. I slowly approached him and when he saw me he scowled down at my small frame and said “Get outta here kid. This ain’t for you.”
            I looked at the sign near the entrance that said “Entry Fee $1.00”. I reached in my hand and pulled out three one dollar bills, separated one from the others and held it up to him while trying not to let my hand shake from fear. “Entry is a buck, here is my buck.” I said, trying to sound brave.
            “I told you to get.” He said without even acknowledging my money.
            “I want to see the Freakshow. Here’s my dollar, let me in.”
            The grizzled man shrugged his shoulders, reached out with his hand and snatched my dollar and nodded over his shoulder. “Go ahead, but don’t blame me for any nightmares. I warned you.”
            As he pushed my dollar into a beat up wooden box I noticed that the hand he grabbed my dollar with was missing a thumb and a pinky. “You only have three fingers.” I said.
            “Yeah, thanks for noticing kid. Now get lost.”
            “What happened?”
            “None of your business… you going in to the show or do I have to kick your ass to get you outta my sight.”
            I quickly ducked passed him and made my way inside the tent. When I got inside I saw a large room with several rows of wooden folding chairs. Some of the chairs were occupied, but most weren’t. I took a seat in a row that had no one sitting in it and looked up towards the stage. I didn’t look at any of the other occupants of the tent not because I didn’t want to but because I was nervous and a bit scared. I don’t know how long I sat there but it couldn’t have been long before the lights on the stage brightened and a short, chubby man came up on stage and began to explain all of what we were about to see. I ignored him. I wanted to see what sort of people the carnival called freaks.
            When the man finished talking, everyone stood up and followed the MC to a curtained entrance. I was the last person in line and as I ducked behind the curtain I wasn’t sure whether or not I had made the right decision. What I saw was amazing and sad all at the same time. As we walked up to each stall to view the freak housed within, I was stunned by how sad and emotionless the whole event. The bearded lady was slowly brushing her facial hair, the fatman was eating hot dogs, the strong man was lifting weights, the contortionist was bending her body in odd shapes and there were many, many more.
            Those images have stuck with me all my life, so much so that whenever I could I would go to a carnival and pay for the freakshow.
            But now, in todays watered down society you can’t really find a freak show to visit. However, I’ve discovered a new place to go to see people who look as if their souls have been sucked right out of them but this time it’s under the harsh incandescent light in a room filled with fan boys and fan girls. These places now are called “Conventions” and they are usually held in hotels with large meeting rooms and patterned carpet that gives a person a headache and lights so bright that one couldn’t even begin to think about trying to hide a blemish on their skin.
            I’ve been to six conventions over the past four years and each time it’s the same. Vendors are trying to sell movies, photos of movie stars, action figures, jewelry, costumes and of course books. I go for the books.
            But every time I go, I am inevitably accompanied by people dressed up as their favorite movie character, cartoon character and occasionally their favorite serial killer. I don’t dress up. I like horror books, fantasy books and science fiction books and when I find out a writer whom I like is attending one of these conventions, I try to make a point to go there, give the writer my money for their book and have them sign it for me. I also try to make some sort of contact with them. I try to let them know that I like what they do, that what they are doing makes a difference and that no matter how small that difference is, it is at least a difference in a world filled with indifference.
            Most of the time I get the practiced smile and nod from the writer as they hand their book to me and I can tell they are either too tired to hold a conversation or that they are wondering when they will be able to take a break. I feel sorry for them because the look in their eyes reminds me of the look in the eyes of all the people I’ve seen in carnival freakshows over the years. It’s a look that says that they would rather be almost anywhere than where they are and that they are doing this job out of an obligation to their publisher.
            Now, not all writers are like this, I have to say, the few that I’ve met outside of the convention circuit are quite nice and have lots of personality. Personality that during a convention seems to get worn thin. That’s when the soul of the person leaves their eyes. Yet they continue to do it. I know they love their fans and are grateful for every one that comes to see them but after endless hours of sitting in a room filled with loud screams and answering the same question over and over again, I can see how it wears them down to a soulless nub.
            It’s a funny thing, I’ve been to author signings more than conventions and the singular singings are even worse than the conventions. When I’ve asked about how many books they’ve sold the answer is usually in the single digits. Those answers make me want to buy out their entire stock just so they have a good day. But of course, I can’t.
            So, where is all this going? Well, since you’ve stuck with me this far, I’ll give you the answer…
            If, in the future, you happen to see an advertisement for a book signing by an author, and if you have time off, please go see them. Buy their book and have them sign it for you. Even if the subject matter is not of your liking, just try to read it. Imagine if you will some of the “A” list writers like Stephen King went to a book signing when he was just starting out and sold one book and then decided to become a morning drive time radio dj. A lot of us would not have five shelves of books in our house now.

            Ok, this blog has gone on way too long and I need to get in out of the cold. Have a great week. Go buy a book.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Gift of the Mind

            I woke up this morning actually feeling pretty good. My fever from yesterday was gone, I wasn’t covered in sweat and the aches and pains that filled all my joints were mostly gone. When I got out of bed, my body protested in the form of snaps and pops from the normal, middle aged places and the familiarity of them was a welcome distraction from what I had been experiencing not twenty-four hours earlier.
            By the time I got dressed and made my way downstairs I realized that today was going to be a warm autumn day. My priorities were simple, clean Bernadette, head up to the HD dealership, pick up the second part of a Christmas gift and then head over to the Verizon store to have my phone checked out. Simple errands really, but the unexpected tepid weather was a nice surprise.
            As I quickly shifted Bernadette through her gears with a total disregard for posted speed limits, my mind focused on the joy of riding but in the back of my mind Christmas music started playing. The song was an old one by Dean Martin, you know the one where instead of saying Rudolph he says Rudy… that song stirred in me a memory that had been buried for over ten years… and this is that memory.
            It was Christmas time; my daughter had just turned four and was strapped in the back of our mini-van. My wife was driving as usual and I was in the passenger seat. On the radio, “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas” had just finished playing and we had just finished singing along while our offspring in the back shouted “I don’t want a Hippopotamus for Christmas!” in her youthful voice and then laughing hysterically. Then Dean Martin’s voice comes on the radio singing “Rudy the Red Nosed Reindeer”. When Dino started changing the lyrics, calling Rudolph, Rudy, and when he spoke German, my daughter started to protest at the top of her lungs…”That’s not how the song goes! He’s messing it up. I don’t like it!”
            My wife and I laughed. We both tried to explain to her who Dean Martin was and what the Rat Pack was but she was having none of it. She wanted the classic Rudolph song. We then had to explain to her we were not in charge of the radio station but we would see what we could do. When she calmed down Chuck Berry’s “Run, Run, Rudolph came on the radio and she began to bop and sway with the heavy rhythms. She liked it and quickly forgot about Dino’s ad lib during the previous song.
            When the song was over she wanted to hear it again, so I dug through the CD pile we had in the van and found a Christmas CD with “Run, Run Rudolph” on it and we played it non-stop for the rest of the ride. By the end of the ride, my child was singing right along with Chuck Berry. It was the first time I heard her southern twang in all its cuteness. Every time she sang “town” it came out “toooowwwwwooowwwwn” Her voice was so adorable that I couldn’t help but laugh and smile. When I looked back at her she clearly was having the time of her life, smiling, singing and laughing at the lyrics that were blasting out of our stereo.
            Her joy was infectious and I was filled with warm fuzzy feelings for the rest of the day. It’s odd though, to me at least.
            I haven’t thought of that moment for years and all of a sudden, while my speedometer needle closed in on the 80 mph mark, my brain was suddenly flashing visions of my young child having such a grand old time while listening to some 4/4 rockin’ Christmas carol. One that is over fifty years old but one that still makes one want to get up and dance or at least sit in your chair and see if you can dance the legs of the blasted thing. I felt a smile creep across my face as I throttled on.
            As I came upon my exit, I wondered what other memories were buried in the deep recesses of my brain. I didn’t try to extract them, I knew that if I did I would fail. Memories are like that. The more you try to force them to the surface the deeper they sink into your id. They seem to be gifts that our unconscious gives to us when we need them and they don’t just come out during the holidays. They can arrive at anytime and anywhere. They can be brought forth by a song, a smell or even a scrap of paper.
            I don’t know how the brain works with memory but I’m sure there are books about the topic available to anyone who wants to read about the subject. But for right now, my curiosity is not peaked enough to go and uncover the secret machinations of the human mind. I’d rather just enjoy the small gifts it gives to me when I need them.  Besides, if I knew then it wouldn’t be a surprise. It would be more like peaking at your Christmas and Birthday gifts a day before you unwrapped them, while at the time of the peaking, you’re filled with excitement and fear, but when it comes time to open them in front of the gift givers, you have to put on an act of surprise and gratefulness. Afterwards, you feel a bit hollow inside, as if your knowledge was more of a burden than it should be. Sure, your happy about your gifts and the people who gave you them are happy you like them but deep down, you know you’re just a fool who has to act like you are surprised.
            This is why I will most likely never delve into the secrets of my mind with a rusty scalpel. I’ll just let my brain unfold its mysteries to me as my life progresses down its path towards its inevitable conclusion. Makes life more interesting.
            For now though, I’m going to enjoy the brief memory I’ve been gifted with of my young daughter laughing, singing and dancing to some rocking Christmas tunes.
            Have  a great week.